Neck gaiters are tubes of fabric that you pull over your head to cover your neck, mouth and nose. They are similar to snoods you might take on a ski trip to prevent your face from cold burns.
Recently, neck gaiters have become more popular, owing to safety concerns arising from the COVID outbreak in many countries. But they have long been something that cyclists have worn to protect themselves from pollution and other contaminants in city centres. Plus, they remain a popular sports accessory that enthusiasts use to protect their faces while exercising outdoors in cold or windy environments.
The controversy is whether neck gaiters are breathable? Do they actually allow you to get sufficient oxygen in and out of your body while exercising?
The Science Of Breathability
Neck gaiters come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes and materials – and these affect their breathability. The majority of manufacturers explicitly engineer them to allow the passage of air in and out. However, there is always a tradeoff between warmth and breathability. The reason clothing provides warmth is that it traps insulating pockets of air in the material, preventing heat exchange. Thus an entirely breathable fabric would provide any insulation at all against the cold. It’d feel just like you weren’t wearing anything at all.
The majority of neck gaiters you might buy for loved ones come with a nylon core, supplemented with other types of synthetic fibres. Manufacturers choose this combination to provide the optimal balance between protecting you from the cold while also preventing the buildup of water droplets from the mouth and nose.
Synthetic fabrics are usually best here because they are best able to deal with additional moisture and water droplets. Natural fibres have a habit of allowing moisture to penetrate them, leading smelly bacterial buildup – not what you want.
Can Neck Gaiters Help During COVID-19?
The government is currently encouraging people to wear face coverings in public. Most people have interpreted this as meaning that friends and family should wear face masks when in high-risk environments, such as public transport. But it actually refers to any piece of material that covers both the nose and mouth.
We typically associate neck gaiters with cold-weather sports, like skiing and snowboarding. These neck gaiters are usually quite thick. There are thinner versions for hiking, camping and fishing. These are generally made of lighter material, but still provide adequate protection from the weather, especially brisk winds.
Neck gaiters don’t provide as much protection from virus particles as, say, a regular, well-fitting mask. But there is evidence that they still offer some benefits for people in high-risk situations. In other words, they’re a great multi-purpose tool you can use when out and about. Yes, they protect you from the elements, but they may also offer assistance in environments in which the risk of infection is high.
Stories are currently circulating that the water droplets that persist in neck gaiters could increase the risk of transmission, but these appear unfounded at present.